“The spotlight is on Whitney,” Lady Bisons coach Kristin Ryman said. “When you take everyone out of the equations she is the one that stands out because she has had such a great year. She is the one everyone is drawn to because she is in the circle the most.
“It’s a pitcher thing a lot of times. When you have one of the top two or three pitchers in the league on your team people will notice that.”
Kiihnl will get the start Thursday morning at 10 a.m. when the Lady Bisons, the No. 1 seed and the A-Sun regular season champions, face Campbell, the No. 6 seed in the first day of the tournament at Patricia Wilson Field on the campus of Stetson University.
The Lady Bisons are 44-10, 18-2. Campbell is 23-29-1, 10-10 in the conference.
Kiihnl, a sophomore right-hander, leads the A-Sun overall in earned run average with a .71 and is also first in conference games only with a .38. She also is first in opponent batting average with a .089 overall and a .103 in A-Sun games only. She has thrown five no-hitters, including one perfect game.
In NCAA Division I rankings she is second in earned run average. She is first in hits allowed per seven innings with an average of 2.01. She is ninth in shutouts with 11 and 17th in strikeouts with 281. She enters the tournament with a 28-2 record. Kiihnl, from Batesville, Miss., is both the A-Sun Player of the Year and the A-Sun Pitcher of the Year this season. Last season she was the A-Sun Freshman of the Year.
Despite her dominating numbers, Ryman is quick to point out that Kiihnl cannot win without a strong supporting cast. There are six A-Sun First Team All-Conference members backing her up.
“We still have a whole group of players around her that really make our team what it is,” Ryman said. “She can’t win games by herself. Realistically, she can do her part on the mound but she can’t win if we don’t score.
“Whitney has had a huge impact on this team. She is well-deserving of every honor. Defense and pitching win championships, but you can’t win unless you score. I couldn‘t ask for a better group to be around such a talented pitcher.”
Kiihnl is quick to credit her teammates for her success. Ryman calls her the most humble player she has ever coached.
“The best part about Whitney though is that she never looks for the awards,” Ryman said. “She just goes about her business without any other thought in her mind. She's such a good teammate.”
Kiihnl, who bats left-handed, has also been a designated player this season. She is fourth overall in the A-Sun in hitting with a .361 average.
"When I think about the best all-around players in the A-Sun, Whitney definitely comes to mind,” Ryman said. “To see a player as well-rounded as Whitney is rare. If you consider her defensive and offensive numbers not many others compare. “
No one was more surprised than Kiihnl that she won both awards from the conference. She was given her plaques after practice Wednesday morning, but she knows they won’t help her on the mound.
“I’m trying not to think about the awards going into the games Thursday,” Kiihnl said after practice Wednesday morning. “They really don’t mean anything. I want to get that championship ring.
“I try not to think about the pressure. It is not just me, but the total team. It is definitely a team sport. I don’t have to be pitching for us to win.”
She finds hitting to be a way to balance the pressures of having to perform on the mound.
“I have always been a hitter,” Kiihnl said. “If I was a right-handed batter I probably wouldn’t hit. I’m a slapper, which means I can bunt and with my speed I can get on base.
“I enjoy hitting. Pitching is stressful because with one pitch you can lose a game. One pitch can ruin a whole game. If you don’t get a hit there are eight other players.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.